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8 May 1916
Ernakulam, Kerala, Kochi, India
|Died||3 August 1993
San Diego, California, U.S.A
"The universe is a cosmos and not a chaos. There exists a mental affinity; a scientific law; a rhythm of mental relationship in which the entire living world is held together in one web of love.""Spirituality is neither the privilege of the poor nor the luxury of the rich. It is a choice of the wise man."
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Chinmayananda Saraswati (8 May 1916 – 3 August 1993), also known as Swami Chinmayananda and born Balakrishnan Menon, was an Indian spiritual leader and teacher who inspired the formation of Chinmaya Mission in 1953 to spread the message of Vedanta. The organization, which was founded by his disciples and led by him, has over 300 centres in India and internationally.
Early life and education
Balakrishnan Menon (Balan) was born in Ernakulam, Kerala in a devout and noble Hindu family called "Poothampilli" of Parukutti Amma and Vadakke Kurupath Kuttan Menon. Upon his birth his father called for an astrologer, who stated that Balan's birth was an auspicious one and that he was destined for greatness. He studied science at the Maharaja's College at Ernakulam and liberal arts at St. Thomas College, Thrissur. He graduated from Madras University in 1939 and went on to do graduate study in English literature at Lucknow University. he did not only spread message of Vedanta,he also struggled for the freedom of India.
Meeting with Ramana Maharshi
Soon after his high school final exams were over, Menon embarked on a tour of South India with a package railway ticket. When the steam train passed the Tiruvannamalai Temple his fellow travellers bowed towards it and talk in the carriage turned to the personage of Ramana Maharshi. Although at that time in his life he regarded himself as "a convinced atheist", Menon later described how the word Maharshi conjured up in his mind ancient forest retreats and glowing superhuman divine beings and he became intrigued enough to take the next available train to Tiruvannamalai to see the Rishi.
"At the Ashram I was told that the Maharshi was in the hall and anybody was free to walk in and see him. As I entered, I saw on the couch an elderly man, wearing but a loincloth, reclining against a round bolster. I sat down at the very foot of the couch. The Maharshi suddenly opened his eyes and looked straight into mine: I looked into his. A mere look, that was all. I felt that the Maharshi was, in that split moment, looking deep into me – and I was sure that he saw all my shallowness, confusions, faithlessness, imperfections, and fears. I cannot explain what happened in that one split moment. I felt opened, cleaned, healed, and emptied! A whirl of confusions: my atheism dropping away, but scepticism flooding in to question, wonder, and search. My reason gave me strength and I said to myself, ‘It is all mesmerism, my own foolishness.’ Thus assuring myself, I got up and walked away. But the boy who left the hall was not the boy who had gone in some ten minutes before. After my college days, my political work, and after my years of stay at Uttarkashi at the feet of my master, Tapovanam I knew that what I gained on the Ganges banks was that which had been given to me years before by the saint of Tiruvannamalai on that hot summer day – by a mere look."
Indian independence movement and imprisonment
In 1942 Menon joined the Indian independence movement. He became involved in writing and distributing leaflets, organizing public strikes and giving speeches. Because of these activities a warrant was issued for his arrest by the British Raj authorities. Despite going into hiding for a while, upon his return he was caught and imprisoned. He spent several months in an overcrowded prison with terrible conditions: near-starvation diet, lack of hygiene and lack of ventilation invited disease. While there he reflected upon his own life, as well as on life in general. The corpses of fellow inmates who had succumbed to the conditions in the prison were carried out daily which caused him to reflect upon the reality of death. Weakened by months in jail he eventually fell ill with typhus fever and as there was little hope for his recovery he was carried out into the night and left on the side of the road on the outskirts of the city. He later described the event saying: "The British officer threw me out when he realized I had contracted typhus in his prison. He did not want another body on his record! But luckily for me, a kindly Christian-Indian lady took me into her home and cared for me like a son. Later she told me that my nose reminded her of her son who was with the army. I suppose you can say I was 'saved by the nose'."
Initiation and disciplehood
Menon entered the field of journalism, and worked for The National Herald, where he felt he could influence political, economic and social reform in India. While working at the Herald, Menon went to meet Sivananda Saraswati at the his ashram at Ananda Kutir,in Rishikesh because he wanted to write an article criticizing Hindu monks. But instead, Menon's life was changed forever as he became interested in the Hindu spiritual path. Balakrishnan Menon took sanyas deeksha (monkhood) from Sivananda on Mahashivratri day on February 25, 1949, and was thus given the name Chinmayananda Saraswati - the one who is saturated in Bliss and pure Consciousness. He stayed at Sivanada Ashram, Rishikesh for several years, and subsequently Sivananda saw further potential in Chinmayananda and sent him to study under a guru in the Himalayas - Tapovan Maharaj under whom he studied for the following years.
Tapovan Maharaj was known for his rigid teaching style, to the point where he told Chinmayananda that he would only say everything once, and at anytime he would ask questions to him. Even with these extreme terms, Chinmayananda stayed with Tapovan maharaj until the very end of 8 years. Being a journalist at heart, Chinmayananda wanted to make this pure knowledge available to all people of all backgrounds, even though Tapovan Maharaj had initially advised against it. Through gentle persuasion and a promise that he would, as the Ganges River, take the knowledge to the plains for the benefit of all Indians, with Tapovan Maharaj's blessings, he left the Himalayas in 1952, to teach the world the knowledge of Vedanta.
Chinmayananda started the tradition of Jnana Yagnas, in an effort to spread the message of the Gita and the Upanishads. Thus the first such Gita Gyana Yagna was held in Pune between December 31, 1951 and April 1952. In his whole lifetime, he performed almost 690 Jnana Yagna.
In 1953, his closest disciples founded the Chinmaya Mission, named so to indicate that the goal of its followers was infinite bliss. During his forty years of travelling and teaching, Chinmayananda opened numerous centres and ashrams worldwide. He also built many schools, hospitals, nursing homes and clinics. He played a major role in the renovation of many temples. His interest in helping the villagers with basic necessities lead to the eventual creation of a rural development project, known as the Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development or CORD. Its National Director, Dr. Kshama Metre was recently awarded the Padma Shree National award in Social Work
Chinmayananda died on 3 August 1993 in San Diego, California after suffering his fourth heart attack. He was aged 77 at the time of his death. His mortal remains were placed in a Samadhi on 19 August 1993, at the Sidhbari Ashram in the Himalayas.
Today, his legacy remains in the form of the vibrant international organization called the Chinmaya Mission. This mission serves Chinmayananda's vision of reinvigorating India's rich cultural heritage, and making Vedanta accessible to everybody regardless of age, nationality, or religious background. Over 10,000 members of the Chinmaya Mission from over the world gathered in Mumbai in December 2001 to commemorate 50 years of the first Gyana Yagna at Pune. Two years later in 2003, the Chinmaya Movement celebrated its golden jubilee.
- Discourses on Taittiriya Upanishad. Chinmaya Publication Trust, 1962.
- Discourses on the Kathopanishad, Chinmaya Book Trust, 1965.
- Bhaja Govindam, tr. Brahmacharini Sharada. Chinmaya Publications Trust, 1967. EMI ODEON MOCE-2001 Long Play LP
- Kindle Life. Chinmaya Publications Trust, 1969
- Love-divine (Narada Bhakti Sutra): the Highest art of making-love to the lord of the heart; (discourses). Chinmaya Publications Trust, 1970
- Discourses on Aitareya Upanishad, Chinmaya Publications Trust, 1972
- Meditation & Life. Chinmaya Publications West, 1992. ISBN 1-880687-00-3.
- Discourses in Prasnopanishad. Chinmaya Publications Trust, 1974.
- The Holy Geeta, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, 1976.
- Discourses on Kaivalyopanishad, Chinmaya Publications Trust, 1978.
- The Art of Man-making: Talks on the Bhagavad Geeta. Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, 1978.
- Discourses on Isavasya Upanishad. Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, 1980.
- Glory of Krishna: Discourses on the Bhagawata Purana. Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, 1983.
- Thousand Ways to the Transcendental: Vishnu Sahasranaama. Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, 1983.
- My Trek Through Uttarakhand. Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, 1985.
- Vakya Vritti of Adi Sankara. Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, 1981.
- Sukhabodhananda, student of Chinmayananda, known as the "Corporate Guru"
- Tejomayananda, World Wide Head, Chinmayamission
- Swamini Saradapriyananda,Founder of Chinmayaranyam group of ashrams, Andhrapradesh
- today it has over 300 centres across the world.. Times of India, 25 December 2001.
- Nanda, R. T. (1997). Contemporary approaches to value education in India. Daya Books. p. 255. ISBN 81-86030-46-8.
- Face to Face with Sri Ramana Maharshi. Compiled and Edited by Professor Laxmi Narain. Published by Sri Ramana Kendram, Hyderabad. First edition: 2005. Page 225-226. ISBN 81-903538-0-2 
- Swami Chinmayananda Biography Chinmaya Mission.
- Gurudev - Early Days (Initiation Day photograph Chinmaya Mission.
- "Understanding the Geeta". December 21, 1998.
- "Chinmayananda spread the message of `Gita'". The Times of India. 25 December 2001.
- "Making philosophy a way of life". The Hindu. May 07, 2003.
- Journey of a Master: Swami Chinmayananda, the Man, the Path, the Teaching, by Nancy Patchen. Asian Humanities Press, 1991. ISBN 0-89581-922-8, ISBN 978-0-89581-922-2.
- Ageless Guru: The Inspirational Life of Swami Chinmayananda, by Radhika Krishnakumar. Eeshwar, 1998. ISBN 81-86982-56-6. 9788186982563.
- At Every Breath, A Teaching: Stories About the Life and Teachings of Swami Chinmayananda, by Rudite J Emir. Chinmaya Publications, 1999. ISBN 1-880687-31-3.
- The Role of Swami Chinmayananda in Revitalization of Hinduism and Reinterpretation of Christianity, by Jagdhari Maish. Punthi Pustak, 2000. ISBN 81-86791-20-5, ISBN 978-81-86791-20-2.
- The Penguin Swami Chinmayananda Reader, by Anita Raina Thapan. Viking (India), 2004. ISBN 0-670-05811-4.